A study released by Metroplan last week shows interesting movement patterns in central Arkansas, including a slowdown in suburban growth and new density in downtown areas of Pulaski and Faulkner counties.
The report, Metro Trends: Demographic Review and Outlook, was produced by Metroplan, a voluntary association of local governments operated by interlocal agreements to push for regional planning on issues such as highways, infrastructure and the environment. Metroplan covers the core of the Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway MSA – Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke counties.
The report, which covers changes occurring in central Arkansas from 2010-2013, showed that Faulkner County had the highest percentage growth at 5.5% followed by Saline County’s 5.4% growth. Lonoke County growth slowed to 3.1% and Pulaski County experience 2% growth.
By raw numbers, Pulaski County grew the most adding 7,585 new residents. Faulkner County added 6,281 to its population base, Saline County added 5,778, and Lonoke County gained 2,134 residents.
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, whose city is the county seat in Faulkner County, said he was surprised by the Lonoke County slowdown.
“Lonoke County surprised to a degree. They’ve been a strong growth county. They have a northern and southern section, the tale of two counties, you could say,” said Townsell, who has served as mayor for almost 15 years.
“The northern area – the Cabot/Ward/Austin area – did slow down compared to what it has been doing. That did catch me off guard. I was not aware of that,” he added.
The Metroplan report also noted that “millennials” – also known as “Generation Y” – the generation in the 10-to-34 year old range was a high-growth population. In the region, millennials account for an estimated 237,000 residents, roughly 35% of central Arkansas.
For the 25-to-34 year old segment of this population group, there is less suburban relocation happening than in years past and many are being newly drawn to urban areas of Little Rock, North Little and Conway.
“Analysis of local Census 2010 census tract data reveals that these young adults are opting for concentration, rather than dispersion, in choosing their places of residence,” the report stated. “There is today a greater share of young adult population in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock, portions of mid-town Little Rock and central Conway, and closer to activity centers throughout the region, when compared with the more suburban residence pattern of young adults twenty years earlier.”
Townsell predicts the return to city cores in the three cities is the beginning of a trend.
“I think that’s what we’re going to see more to come as this millennial generation continues to move into the workforce and into their lives,” he said. “This generation wants to be back downtown where you can walk from your residence to your work to your restaurant to the bar that knows your name. They can do all of that and they like that urban feel.”
You can view the full Metroplan report at this link. Townsell’s full interview can be viewed below.